Food Sensitivity Versus Food Allergy

Nutrition | | January 29, 2010 at 7:00 am
Photo by  auntjojo.

Photo by auntjojo.

Many of my patients have good diets and pride themselves on eating healthy, but are unaware that something they are eating might be causing seemingly unrelated symptoms. We all know about food allergies, right? Like your cousin who is allergic to peanuts, or a friend of a friend that breaks out into a rash if she eats shellfish. But what about the more subtle food sensitivities that may not be as obvious and generally go undiagnosed?

Food allergies and food sensitivities are not the same thing.

  • A food allergy is an immediate reaction where the offending food causes the IgE immune cells to respond immediately causing urticaria (hives), anaphylactic shock (an emergency situation where the windpipe closes), rhinitis (runny nose) and stomach problems.
  • A food sensitivity is a delayed reaction where the offending food causes IgG immune cells to react and may take up to 3-7 days for your body to feel the effects.

When your immune system reacts to a food sensitivity, it creates a whole cascade of immune responses and inflammation in the body and can result in the following symptoms. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just the most common.

  • migraine headache
  • neurological disturbances
  • eczema
  • acne
  • arthritis
  • chronic inflammation
  • joint pain
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • gall bladder disease
  • asthma
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • childhood hyperactivity
  • behavioral disturbances in children
  • sinus congestion
  • indigestion
  • intestinal gas
  • diarrhea/constipation
  • general fatigue.

How to test for food sensitivities
There are many ways to test for food sensitivities and everyone has different tests that they favor. I’ve listed the 3 which I use and feel are the best ways to identify a food sensitivity. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor or health care practitioner to get guidance with the following techniques.

  • Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test. The ELISA is the most popular (conventional) blood test to detect food sensitivities, and is considered safe, economical, and highly sensitive.  It uses an enzyme bonding process to detect antibody levels measuring IgE, IgG, IgG4 and IgA antibodies, and so identifies both food allergies and food sensitivities. Basically at the end of the day you get a nice handout showing the majority of foods and how strongly your body reacts to them on a graded scale. It’s visual, clear and easy to follow.
  • EAV (vega testing). This electro-acupuncture diagnostic method out of Germany uses a galvanometer designed to measure the skin’s electrical activity at designated acupuncture points in response to specific foods. This technique purports to measure both general allergic pathology and specific food sensitivity.  In order for this technique to gain wider acceptance, more research and clinical trials will have to be conducted, and a scientifically satisfactory explanation of its mode of operation will have to be developed.
  • Elimination/challenge diet. The most low tech solution and probably my favorite. The elimination and challenge diet is designed to omit suspected food intolerance’s and irritants from the diet for 7 to 14 days.  Once this is done, it is possible to introduce certain suspected food irritants or intolerances one at a time back into the diet, while checking for adverse reactions.  Ideally, the diet should be set up so that foods in the same family are not repeated within a 3-day period.

I promised my long distance patients some guidelines of how to go through an elimination diet. So, download the elimination diet handout and tape it to your fridge; have your last supper then go for it! Patients, definitely email me if you have any questions or need help getting through it.

NishantDr. Nishant Rao is a co-founder of He is a well-traveled naturopathic doctor and new father, practicing an integrative approach to create wellness in and around Los Angeles. Become a patient or discover his practice.

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